Commissioners Begin Budget Process
(Shaun Friedrichsen, Publisher)
The numbers are in as the preliminary budget for the county is being balanced; the numbers show a positive trend.
Brian Blobaum, who is compiling the budget for Jefferson County, as well as Thayer County and Saline County, emphasized that the numbers presented to the commissioners on Tuesday are still a work in progress.
“This is just very preliminary,” said Blobaum. “Just kind of throwing together the numbers what we have initially for budget, there are a couple things to note here. Ambulance budgets we don’t have yet, so I used the amounts from the prior year.”
Commissioner Michael Dux noted that Ambulance Director Alan Rosenthal has been undergoing required training with the National Guard, and that he will return later this week. He believes the new ambulance budget will be available then.
Commissioner Mark Schoenrock asked if there were budgets from other departments that have not been received. Blobaum stated that there were some “odds and ends” left, but nothing nothing that will act as a major hindrance to the budget process.
“The budget summary gives a summary of all the funds that are included in the budget,” Blobaum said. “What we do in the county budget is attempt to fund all sources of all funds out of the general fund first. So, the property tax goes into the general fund and then we fund shortages from all the other funds from that [general] fund. Then what we do is try to budget for a cash reserve.”
The reserve, Blobaum noted, has traditionally been $480,000 in the general fund. In order to balance out all of the funds, Blobaum explained that money needs to be transferred into the general fund from the inheritance fund.
“That’s kind of how the budget is put together,” said Blobaum. “We try to do everything with property tax, then when we run out of money, we go to the inheritance fund. That’s the basics of how the budget is done.”
The inheritance fund, which currently has a balance of over $3 million, will be depleted by some of the expenses from the courthouse renovation project.
“We still have a major hit to that with the courthouse renovation,” Schoenrock said. “We’re going to have over a million dollars coming out. We do progress payments on the courthouse renovation.”
Another issue that may affect the budget is the interlocal agreement with Saline County to have John McKee as the Emergency Manager for both Jefferson County and Saline County. Blobaum stated that he was aware of that agreement and reiterated that the numbers presented on Tuesday were only preliminary and that there are likely going to be changes as they continue to work through the budget.
“Here in the pages you have in front of you, you have no increase in property tax,” said Blobaum. “It’s a conservative budget. We’ve done the same for several years. So, going forward, our cash starting the year, we’re better off than we were in the last couple years. So if we look at, overall, where does this group of starting numbers, what do they look like, it’s saying that even though we had $900,000 more in the bank to start with, when we all get done, we’re saying we’ve got $414,000 less that’s undesignated to be spent than the previous year’s budget.”
Dux explained that the county has been working to cut the levy amount over the past few years, though he believes there may be an increase in the future. Blobaum stated that the county is well below the limit.
“You have an incredible amount of room for property tax increase as far as the levy limit is concerned,” said Blobaum.
Schoenrock asked Blobaum what the way ahead looks like for the county to set a budget.
“You’ll need to go through the budgets, make yourself comfortable that the department heads and elected officials have budgets that are sound and reasonable for what their purposes are,” Blobaum said. “The final valuations aren’t out until August 20, so that’s a point when we will look to see if our property tax was the same as a year ago, what that would do to our levy.”
The commissioners will need to vote on how much of levy limit will be given to the subdivisions, such as the fire districts and the historical society. The window of time to accomplish this is set between Aug. 20 and Aug. 31.
The commissioners must adopt the budget before Sept. 20. Schoenrock noted that this is an open process and that anyone is welcome to attend the budget hearing. The commissioners decided not to meet next week, and instead they will meet on Aug. 29.
“This is not secretive or anything,” said Schoenrock. “We want it to be out there so the people understand the process.”